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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Riddle of Chinandega or The Vengeance of Vicente?

This afternoon the Dodgers will send to the mound the first of two members of their rotation who were formerly Phillies. By setting Vicente Padilla up for two starts in this series (something which surprised a number of fans and pundits), Joe Torre is banking on the fact that Padilla has something to prove to a community which publicly humiliated him and a team that shunned him.

In the not so distant past, Philadelphia fans considered Padilla and Randy Wolf to be beacons of hope. In 2003 they combined to win 30 games. Even though neither of them had yet reached the magical age of 27, both had already made an All-Star team.

Padilla, at the age of 25, had back-to-back fourteen win seasons. However, in '04 and '05, when the Phillies thought he would mature into a true Ace, he suffered nagging injuries and went a mere 16-19 with a 4.63 ERA and a staggering 110 walks in 262 innings. In consecutive offseasons he was involved in car accidents in his native Nicaragua, one of which tragically killed a friend. Rumors persistently circulated in the Philadelphia papers that Padilla had a serious alcohol problem, that he was standoffish with teammates, and that he was prone to throwing at opposing players for no apparent reason.

2005 was, especially, a difficult season for the Phillies, even though they were playing for a playoff berth on the last day of the season. Ryan Howard arrived in grandiose fashion, winning Rookie of the Year, but that was overshadowed by the fact that their resident slugger, Jim Thome, played in only 59 games. Chase Utley became a full-time starter and garnered MVP consideration, but their biggest off-season acquisition, Kenny Lofton, managed to start only 110 games and scored just 67 runs (despite hitting .335). Most disappointing, Padilla and Wolf, expected to be the stalwarts of the Philadelphia rotation, both spent significant time on the D.L. and were only sporadically effective when healthy.

For months, local sportswriters took to calling Padilla the "enigmatic Nicaraguan." On any given night he was capable of baffling good teams, but he was equally likely to give up four dingers in three innings to the lowly Diamondbacks, as he did on August 28th. After Padilla got lit up on Fan Appreciation Night, the Philadelphia Daily News called him "a perfect example of the kind of player who should be purged this winter." Which was, it turned out, exactly what happened.

Pretty much the first move by the Phillies new GM, Pat Gillick, who would become the architect of the 2008 World Champions, was essentially giving Padilla to the Rangers (for a "player to be named later" named, forgettably, Ricardo Rodriguez). Nobody seemed to notice that despite Padilla's unimpressive overall numbers, he pitched excellently in the second half of 2005, going 6-4 and registering a 3.40 ERA in his last 15 starts.

Padilla continued to confuse and aggravate his managers and teammates in Texas. He won 15 games in '06 and 14 again in '08, but only six in '07, and never posted an ERA below 4.50. The Rangers were frustrated by his inconsistency, his questionable dedication, his suspiciously bloodshot eyes, and his love for the beanball (Padilla has 50% more hit batsmen in his career, at the age of 31, than Tom Glavine, at the age of 43). In early August, after Padilla gave up three homers to the lowly Athletics, the Rangers released him outright, eating the nearly $4 Million remaining on his contract. And so, the Dodgers took a free roll with Philadelphia's least favorite "enigma."

Some other notes on former Phillies:

Randy Wolf was an All-Star in '03, but from 2004 to 2006 Wolf accrued a 4.81 ERA and averaged only five wins and sixteen starts a season.

Technically, Jim Thome is still playing under the contract he signed with the Phillies. The White Sox picked up the $13 Million option for '09, probably partially thanks to the fact that the Phillies paid a significant portion of Thome's salary from '06 to '08. Although he hasn't played a game for them since June of '05, the Phillies still paid $53 Million of the $98 Million Thome has earned over the past seven seasons.

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